The Church

by Rev. Randy Brown

Well, as I said a few moments ago, we survived annual conference this week. It was absolutely, I think, one of the better annual conferences that we’d ever been to. There was a whole lot less business session and a whole lot more spiritual things that went on. And, I left there renewed, and refreshed, and ready for another year of us being in ministry together.

I was reminded though, of a story years and years ago … one afternoon, the annual conference session concluded, and they were supposed to have the supper break and then come back after supper, and the bishop was going to preach that night. Well, as that happened, as they broke for supper, the bishop got a telephone call, and it said, “Bishop, you need to come back to where he lived, there’s been an emergency, and you are required, and you really needed to be here.”

Well, at the supper break there was nobody around. He had to find somebody to preach the evening worship service that day, and he couldn’t find anybody. All of the high steeple preachers, they were down, and couldn’t be found by cell phone or any other method. And, so, he finally looked, and he noticed a young preacher boy, just graduated from seminary, it was his first annual conference, and he went up to him and said, “Son, you are preaching tonight. I’ve got to leave town, and you are preaching.”

He said, “Bishop, I can’t do that.” The bishop said, “You can do it, and you are doing it because I am leaving, and you’re preaching.” Bishop, I can’t do that.” “Well, son, preach what’s on your heart.” “Bishop, I ain’t got anything on my heart.” Well, that discussion went on and on. Finally the bishop said, “I’m the bishop. You’re the rookie preacher. You’re preaching. I’ll see you tomorrow.”

The next morning when the Bishop got back to the conference, all of the preachers there, and the lay folks to, they bragged on this young preacher, and they said how much of a good job he did, and finally the Bishop saw the young preacher, and told him that everybody was bragging on him, and how proud they were of him, and he said, “Well, Bishop,” he said, “I began to pray when you left, and I prayed, and I prayed, and I walked the floor, and I walked around the sanctuary, and I knelt at the altar, and I prayed, and I walked up into the pulpit because I wanted to see what it would look like from up there, and Bishop, when I got up into the pulpit there was a Bible there. I opened the Bible and there was a sermon in it, and I read it, and it captured me, and I preached that sermon.”

The bishop said, “The Bible that was in the pulpit, and the sermon that was in it, son you didn’t preach that did you?” He said, “Yes Bishop, I did.” He said, “Son, that was the sermon that I was going to use this afternoon to close the annual conference.” He said, “Son, what am I going to do?” The young boy said, “Bishop, preach what’s on your heart.”

I want to share with you a little this morning, and preach to you from my heart this morning. I’ve had the opportunity through the years to be, and fly, all kinds of places from domestically and overseas. I’ve been in the big planes and the little planes, big airports and little airports, and I want you to go with me on this trip for a few moments. When we get to the airport and we are getting ready to load the plane, right before we load, there’s about a twenty or twenty-five minute ordeal that you go through every time, and if you watch it; it can be somewhat hilarious, because you’re sitting there and you’re thinking to yourself, “I wonder who I’m going to have to sit with.”

If you don’t already have your tickets by a family member, you don’t have any clue who you’re going to sit with. That person will walk up, and you’ll think, “Well, I wouldn’t mind sitting with him. They look like they’re nice people, and kind of like to get to know them,” or, “I sure hope it’s not that family with three kids and the kids sit behind me and kick me in the back of the chair for the whole flight. I hope somebody doesn’t lean back on me or won’t let me lean back and all.”

We begin to wonder and try to figure out who it is that we’re going to sit by, and as we get on the plane we look at our ticket and we get to our seat, sometimes the person is already there, and we think, “I didn’t want to sit by them.” Or, they’re coming down the aisle, and you make that eye contact, and all of a sudden you realize, that’s who’s coming here. Kind of like church on Sunday morning isn’t it?

Sometimes we’re creatures of habit. We get there and we’re sitting in our seat, and the person comes in and sits down beside of us, and sometimes they’ll get situated, and you hadn’t fastened your seatbelt, so you have to get them to get up, or you pull the seatbelt out from under them, and you get situated, and you’re ready. Then the captain comes on and says, “Thank you for flying with us,” and that little speech. The flight attendants get the little speech out about the mask dropping from the ceiling, and buckle your seatbelt, and your seat will be a flotation device, and those kinds of requirements that they have. We get on that flight and we become a family. Everybody on that flight is going to the same destination, headed to the same direction, wanting the same safe travel.

Every church I’ve been in has been like that. Oh, we have struggles and we have challenges. Sometimes we disagree, and sometimes we just have to love each other in spite of things. But God has used me at all of those churches, and all of those churches have blessed me. We are a part of a worldwide movement. When you get on a plane you realize just how small this world really is, because all of a sudden you have connections with people that you never would have connections with otherwise. You get to hear their stories, and find out who they are, and where they’re from. Suddenly you realize, it’s a small world, and that we are part of the human family. We realize that we are a part of something bigger than ourselves.

We need to realize that in the church too. It’s not just us here on the corner in Manchester, Tennessee. It’s a worldwide church. It’s a worldwide movement for all who confess the name of Jesus as Lord and Savior. We are part of that worldwide movement.

A theologian by the name of Donald Gray Barnhouse said this a while back, that all of life reflects biblical truth. There’s something that I’ve discovered this week, and I don’t know, really, what caused it, but there’s a lot of similarities between an airline flight and the church. You have to have faith. Faith is a requirement. If you’re going to get on that plane, that you don’t know who built, and you don’t know where it was built, and you don’t know the specifications, you don’t know the maintenance crew, you don’t know the pilot, you don’t know any of those people, but yet you’ve got faith enough to get on that plane. That takes faith.

Faith is also required to be a part of God’s church, for Jesus said, “flesh and blood did not reveal this to you, but my father in heaven revealed it to you, and because of your faith,” your faith and the faith of other people like that, “that is the rock that I will build my church on.” You see faith is a part of both aviation and the church.

Jackie told us the trivia fact about the song, and that it was from the movie Shrek. Well, I want to share with you another trivia fact. This won’t mean much to you but I get pleasure out of it every now and then. Who was it that discovered, or invented, the airplane? The Wright brothers, Orville and Wilbur Wright. Do you know what their father was? A Methodist preacher. Worse than that, he was a Methodist bishop. Worse than that, his most famous sermon was entitled Man is Not Meant to Fly. (laughter) While he was trying to talk his boys out of something, they were making the world a better place. And, aren’t you glad they did?

The church has always lived in a certain amount of tension. I saw it this week. Sometimes it’s a healthy tension, a tension between the now and the not yet. We need to be realizing that as the church, and as the local church. Sometimes we live in that tension of the now, and the not yet. A faith in the plane. A faith in church.

Then there comes an interesting moment on this flight. You’re sitting there, they’ve come by with the refreshments, and suddenly either you turn or the person turns to you and says, “Well, what is it that you do?” Now for preachers that’s an interesting conversation. Usually the reaction is one of two things, “Well, isn’t that nice,” or they let everybody around you know how relieved they are that a preacher’s on the plane, and surely the plane won’t go down if a preacher’s on it. It’s amazing the response.

Now I’ve got to fly to Orlando in August, and I’m already working on my response to that question. I don’t have it memorized yet but here’s what I’m thinking about saying when somebody says, “Well what do you do? Who are you?” This is called the ABCs of being a preacher. I’m an ambassador, an advocate, an administrator, a baptizer, a building consultant, a confidant, a comforter, a community builder, a discussion leader, an encourager, an emotional baggage handler, a funeral companion, a grace giver, a groundskeeper, a historian, an interpreter, a justice seeker, a knowledge dispenser, a latent gift discoverer, a mediator, the missionary, a nurturer, an organizer, an opportunity spotter, a public speaker, a problem solver, a questioner, a quarterback, a recruiter, a reviewer, a spokesman, a spiritual director, a teacher, a unifier, a utility player, a volunteer coordinator, a vision caster, a wedding presider, a youth advocate, a Yuletide celebrator, a zeal stoker, and a zookeeper. And what is it that you do? I’ll let you know how the conversation goes.

They’ll say, “Well, tell me about your company. Tell me about the organization you work for.” Folks, I was renewed this week when I realized – and I want you to be renewed today – when we realize who it is that we represent, and what kind of company – if you’ll allow me the use that term– what kind of company it is that we’re a part of. Are you ready? This means yes. Okay, hold on.

Before I tell you about the company, I want you to know that it started out hundreds of years ago, and like an advertisement on the Nashville television station, we’re not old because we’re good. We’re good because we’re old. We’ve been around. We started in another part of the world. Our founder grew up in a carpenter shop. He left when he was age thirty. At about age twelve, well maybe eleven, he found good men that would help him out. They started out small and they had their problems.

Can you get excited about something like this? Can you get excited about a company that’s got that kind of history to it? This means yes. Can you get excited about that?

They started small and they had their problems. They outgrew their small shop. It has branches all over the world. In the United States of America, wherever there is a post office, there is one of our buildings as well. We go and gather weekly, we go to worship, but we don’t just worship, we go to be their representatives of this company when worship is over. There are branches in all kinds of places, houses, and coffee shops, and storefronts, and warehouses, and cathedrals, and country roads, and city streets. Tell me more you say.

Well, because of faith, and because of putting our faith into action, not just meeting on Sunday morning, but faith into action, we have hospitals and nursing homes that we sponsor. We sponsor adoption agencies, and child care facilities, and feeding programs, and safe places for unwed mothers, and shelters for abused women and children. We have universities from Atlanta to Africa where people can study and become doctors and teachers, and preachers, and lawyers.

And some, on the local front we have, when a family has lost a loved one, we have bereavement meals. We sponsor Alcoholics Anonymous, and Narcotics Anonymous. We’ll have people to repair bicycles and automobiles. We’ll have people that go and visit the prisons and jails. We’ll have Bible studies and people that’ll build habitat houses. We’ll have people that send birthday cards and work for Meals on Wheels. It’s a great organization to be a part of.

As a matter of fact, anybody and everybody can be a part of this organization. Whenever there is a natural disaster, we’re the first people on the scene and the last people to leave. When there’s a tsunami, an earthquake, a tornado, a flood, or a hurricane, we’re there. We have day care centers and after school care. We have tutoring and summer programming. We have television and radio communication capabilities.

“Well, how did your company get so big?” Faith, and people wanting to live out their faith, one day at a time, one community at a time, one situation at a time. The same thing that caused us, and allowed us, to get on an airplane. Faith that when we exercised our faith over the years, this company grew and grew and grew to be all that it is, and we’re not done yet. It’s faith, and we can get excited about it.

“What is the name of this company?” The church, the church, the United Methodist Church, and you’re invited to be a part of it by faith in Christ. I mentioned annual conference, several years ago our Bishop was Bishop Ernest Newman. At the beginning of each conference when the to-be-ordained folks come, they are asked the historic questions that go back even to Mr. Wesley. One of the questions that Mr. Wesley asked his preachers was this, “Have you faith in Christ?”

Bishop Newman asked in a different way. He just said, “Are you a Christian?” I think that’s a fair question, even to preachers, maybe especially to preachers. Are you a Christian? Have you faith in Christ, because it’s that faith that Jesus built the church on. I want to invite you to become a part of this family of God, this group of people that, worldwide, practices and lives out their faith, that we declare Him Lord, and upon that declaration, He will build His church, and you and I can be a part of a worldwide movement. Let’s do it. Amen, and amen.